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Enjoying Florida's Emerald Coast: Fort Walton Beach & Destin

Enjoying Florida's Emerald Coast: Fort Walton Beach & Destin

At the end of August we took a trip to the Emerald Coast for Mikael's grandmother's funeral. We decided to stay a week to really enjoy Florida with our family.

Mikael and I have been to Destin a few times but bringing kids to the beach is an experience I'll never forget! I will admit though, it was a little exhausting trying to keep them from eating sand or running straight into the ocean. It made me slightly nostalgic for the days when all I had to worry about staying hydrated while in the sun...

Other than us being crazy parents trying to keep our kids alive, we did enjoy bringing our kids to the beach and seeing the pure delight on their faces when they experienced the ocean for the first time.

Destin has a few unique sights to offer the every day traveler. If you're thinking of heading to the Emerald Coast, put Fort Walton Beach and Destin on your list!

1. Visit the Beach

In my opinion, the number one reason to visit Florida is the beach! Bring or rent a tent to have an all-day family beach experience (without worrying about littles burning). Both Destin and Fort Walton Beach have great beaches that boasts the white sugar sand and perfect teal waters. I listed out my favorite beaches by location - I hope you find the time to stop by a few of these for the day!

  1. Henderson Beach & Henderson Beach State Park - listed as one of the best beaches in the country, Henderson Beach is a beautiful place to spend time either by yourself, or with others. You won't be disappointed!

  2. James Lee Beach - an absolutely beautiful beach with white sand and emerald water.

  3. June White Decker Beach - it's a nice beach, but plan to get here early if you want a spot! It's a smaller beach and space fills up quickly.

  4. Norriego Point - located near the boardwalk in Destin, it's perfectly situated between the Choctawhatchee Bay and the gulf.

Fort Walton Beach
  1. John Beasley Park - this one is hands down my favorite beach spot. A small boardwalk nearby has coffee, restaurants, ice cream and public restrooms for changing. There are showers at the boardwalk to rinse the sand off before going to the car.

  2. Okaloosa Island Beach - located near condos and a small boardwalk, this beach also has nearby showers to rinse off after enjoying the beach.

  3. Wayside Park, Okaloosa Island - charming beach with an expansive boardwalk nearby and local restaurants.

  4. Garniers Beach Park - if you're looking for something a little quieter in a neighborhood, this is your beach! Located in the Choctawhatchee Bay, it has a swimming area, play equipment and picnic tables.

You really can't go wrong with any of the beaches in Fort Walton and Destin. They are all picture perfect. Play in the sand with beach toys or just hang by the water!

2. Catch a Dolphin Tour

There are quite a few private, custom and charter boats that offer dolphin tours in and around Destin and Fort Walton Beach. Destin is a great place to see dolphins regularly, and often times you can spot them off in the distance from the ocean shore line on the beach.

A boat ride or cruise usually runs between $30-50 per person. There are a handful of custom options, like sunset dolphin cruises and those are slightly pricier. A private dolphin cruise and chartered cruise will run you $300-900 depending on the company, and is a good option for parties and families.

There are so many great ways to see dolphins in Florida and taking a cruise is an (almost) guaranteed way of catching a glimpse of these fun-loving creatures.

3. Mini Golf & Amusement Parks

Okaloosa Island and Destin both have popular mini golf courses right near the beach. When you're tired of the sand and sun, head over for a afternoon of play.

  1. Okaloosa National Mini Golf & Ice Cream - destination offering 2 separate 18-hole mini-golf courses along with a selection of 23 ice creams.

  2. Wild Willy's Adventure Zone - amusement park with go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars & boats, kids' rides & arcade.

  3. Goofy Golf - located north of Fort Walton near Ocean City, Goofy Golf is a small, family-friendly mini-golf course that provides a quirky setting for the game.

  4. The Track, Destin - amusement park with go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars & boats, kids' rides & arcade.

4. The Boardwalks

I love visiting the boardwalks. Destin and Okaloosa Island have great boardwalks, right near the beach. Grab a drink, shop, or eat dinner and watch the sun set over the golf!

Destin Harbor Boardwalk

The Destin boardwalk is a bustling destination for bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, boating and tourist attractions. It stretches nearly a quarter mile and is the perfect spot to take in the beach and sunset near the pier or enjoy lunch and dinner by the water. There are so many restaurants to choose from! I recommend AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar for some amazing seafood. If you're stopping for brunch or lunch, head over to Marine Cafe or Margaritaville.

The Boardwalk, Okaloosa Island

The boardwalk on Okaloosa Island is far smaller than in Destin, but it's charming and quaint and has everything that you need. Grab dinner at Al's Beach Club and Burger Bar and enjoy a Rum Float. Trust me, it's fantastic.

Have a coffee from Oasis and sit out on the boardwalk or eat gelato near the ocean. Either way, you can't go wrong! And having showers and public restrooms on the boardwalk make it easy to spend an entire day at the beach.

The Boardwalk, Okaloosa Island

5. Enjoy a Sunset Cruise

Many of the dolphin tours also offer sunset cruises, as well as dolphin sunset tours. Enjoy a group cruise or private trip later in the evening and watch the sun set over the gulf.

There's nothing better than watching the sun set over the ocean.

6. Big Kahuna's Water & Adventure Park

If you get tired of the ocean, then head to the water park! Big Kahuna's Water and Adventure Park is located in Destin and features over 40 water attractions. It has everything from water slides, a wave pool, lazy river and multiple pools. The park also features several thrill ride attractions and a miniature golf course. A few special rides for kiddos makes this a great one-stop shop for fun.

There are several different price options for the adventure park, ranging from $14-35. Choose the right package for you and your family!

7. Rent a Boat - Head to Crab Island!

Probably the neatest destination in Destin is located in the middle of Choctawhatchee Bay, Crab Island. Crab Island is a submerged sandbar just off the shore of Destin, you could practically swim there!

But if swimming through the bay isn't your jam, rent a boat or a jet ski and head over to the island. A Crab Island Shuttle Boat sells roundtrip tickets to those who don't want to rent a boat.

On the weekends the entire island is packed with anchored boats and in the middle of the sandbar is a floating bar, serving up drinks all day. The submerged sandbar has an average depth of 1-4 feet and is a great way to spend the day.

Mommy and toddler in the ocean photography

I hope you make it to the Emerald Coast! And if you stay in Destin and Fort Walton Beach, let me know what you enjoyed and what we should hit up the next time we're there. It's one of our favorite places to visit, and we definitely look forward to heading back. Happy travels!

With Joy, Jessica


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